Murph doesn’t talk to me. He’s more interested watching the shit outside the window and I’m bored beyond all fucking hell. It’s a long train ride from London to York. But he makes it feel like the longest fucking train ride anywhere. I bet even the Eurostar’s more bearable than traveling with him.
But we get off at York, and he leads the way. Because I don’t know where the fuck I’m going. Murph’s bouncing as he walks. We’re not touching.
I try not to think about King’s Cross. What happened.
We get to a brick building. There’s a white hallway and Murph talks to someone and everything happens so fucking fast. Before I know it, we’re in this huge room full of trains. Train cars, steam trains, electric, foreign. One spins on the far side of the room.
Murph lights up. More than King’s Cross. More than anything I’ve ever seen. He’s been waiting for this moment for God knows how long. He gasps and bounces in places. He’s just...so excited.
Like a puppy going to the park for the first time.
He gasps again. This one’s bigger and breathier. If that makes sense. And it’s that kind of sound that someone makes when they’re about to die. “It’s the Shinkansen,” he whispers, and reaches out to touch a white train with blue on it. It looks like an airplane. He doesn’t touch it, though. Then he whines and trots over to this big blue train with yellow stripes. “It’s the Deltic.” He does this for all of them around the one spinning train. Meanwhile I’m just following after him, because fuck if I know why all these trains are here.
My tour guide’s seriously the fucking worst.
After an hour and a half of aggressive mumbling, taking pictures, squatting to look through the wheels, and circling the entire room, Murph looks at me, wide-eyed and still chuffed.
I’m walking like a fucking zombie. I’m done here. I don’t know what’s happening anymore.
“Did you see that?” he asks. Murph points to something, but I don’t have the strength to turn my head.
“Did you see this?” he asks. Murph’s pointing to a dark red locomotive with gold lines that make me think it’ll be able to blow through the fucking wall and speed away. “That’s Duchess of Hamilton. I said that already, right?”
I don’t know. “Yeeeees,” I moan.
“Come on. Don’t you think this is interesting?” he asks, putting down his phone. “Like, over a hundred years of transportation and engineering innovation and design are all under one roof.”
Okay, the way he says it makes me interested. But I still say, “I don’t know shit about this. My tour guide fucking sucks at explaining stuff.”
“Oh,” is all he says. Murph’s eyes drop down to the floor and then he takes my wrist, grinning broadly. “Well...”
“I guess we have to start all over,” Murph says. He’s about three seconds away from looking like the Cheshire Cat in creepiness. He’s excited.
I’m fucking scared and tired. Mostly because I don’t want to go through this shit again.
Murph drags me over to a train that looks like a barrel on a cart. It’s yellow and the white chimney thing is almost as tall as me. He lets go of my hand and gestures to the train. “This is the Rocket. It isn’t the first steam locomotive, but it was the first successful one.”
“Why?” It just looks like a brewery on wheels.
That’s a good idea.
“There’s a lot of things that made it successful.” Murph points to the fat side tube thingys. “The cylinders aren’t vertical, like most trains before. This gave it better pulling power than others. The pistons...” He gestures to the metal rods attaching the wheels to the cylinders. “...are connected right to the wheels. It was such a good design idea that every other locomotive has this. Even with more wheels, they were connected by pistons straight to the cylinders.”
I look around. Cylinders connected to wheels via pistons. Every train with those big wheels got it.
“Any questions?” he asks, hands behind his back.
“This isn’t a school trip,” I point out, glaring.
“This is true, but I know more than you.”
“Fuckin’ rude, Murph.” I smirk, still.
“What’s that?” he asks, pointing to the black square thing behind the yellow boiler. Murph’s not looking. He’s staring me down.
I don’t fucking know what it is.
“Think back to when you watched Thomas the Tank Engine,” he encourages. Except Murph’s got this snug-ass grin on his face and I want to smack him.
But jokes on him. I watched Postman Pat. That is, when Mum had the fucking telly in working order.
“That’s the, uh…” I wave my hand around like I’m trying to find the word. “...it’s...thingy.”
Murph raises his eyebrows. “Thingy.”
He leans forward. “Firebox.”
“No, it’s thingy.”
Murph snorts and takes my hand. “We go this way.”
“But I wanna go that way.” I point to the thing he called Deltic.
“We’re going on a walking tour through locomotive history.” He pulls my hand, but I don’t move. “Come on.” He tries again, but my feet stay planted. “Tommy,” he says, pulling at me again. At one point, he’s pulling me and he’s just leaning back as far as he can without stumbling. It takes a good two minutes before Murph stands back up straight.
“You’re not that strong.”
Murph lets go of my hand. “I mean, I’m fine to go through history again. If you’d like to join me, I’m heading that way.” He smiles, turns, and walks off towards the still-turning train on the far side of the room.
Well now I’m just bored again. Like, I was bored before, but now it’s just frustrating.
And what’s worse is that I’d rather be bored with him than be bored sitting somewhere alone.
So I warily follow after him.
Our hands brush against each other a couple times. Murph stops and smiles, but not to me. He points to another train and begins talking about it, looking at me to make sure I don’t fall asleep. He asks questions and I’m just walking with him, frowning and thinking how good a teacher he’d be. Genuinely interested in making sure I’m not bored, engaged with me and the stuff around him. But it hasn’t stopped him from having this place take up all his attention.
His hand’s in mine. A little sweaty. A firm grip. And I don’t remember when that happened.
I’m tempted to tell him that I need my hand back.
But everything about him right now is glowing.
The way he talks just kind of pisses me off, too. He squats with me so he can point out engineering things. Small details no one would’ve noticed unless they were with someone as radge as Murph. He asks me to look at little things – the painted levers in the cabs, how the trains are painted, even the change in style in the posters – and fucking encourages questions from me.
I don’t have any. I’m a tosser.
So he poses ones for me to think about, not expecting me to answer. Just to think.
So I do.
I turn to him.
“What do you like about this one?”
He’s talking about the one slowly spinning on the turntable. The nameplate on the side says City of Truro.
I swallow and point to the brassy bit on top of the boiler. “I like that.” This’s stupid.
Murph steps closer to me. “The dome?”
I nod. He’s probably going to bring something up about the boiler or –
“It’s like a big dumb hat, isn’t it?” he asks.
I look at him.
He’s trying hard not to smile.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard ya say all day,” I say. Now I’m trying not to smile.
“Must be hard to listen to someone drone on and on about something.” He leans on the railing circling the turntable, staring at me. His hand’s still in mine.
“Nah,” I say.
Murph smiles. Dimples. He pulls me along to the next thing.
And I kind of hate the fact that I’m waking in-step with him now.
We come in from outside. We take seats at the cafe in the main building, which Murph insists I call the Great Hall.
Which I’m not going to do. It’s the main building.
“That was cool, right?” he asks, sitting back down with some packaged foods from the counter.
The miniature railway was kind of cool. Because they’re real small but still work like the actual ones. We had one of the drivers show us how it all worked. But I wouldn’t admit it to Murph.
Besides, he’s still beaming.
So I shrug. “It was ’lright.”
He holds back the train conversation while eating a butty and some fruit he picked up, but I paid for. I’m not peckish. Or I’m just not in the mood. He’s just as animated as he was before, but less so. If that makes sense. I don’t know what he’s talking about.
Maybe it’s just the way Murph talks. Or how he uses his hands?
There’s just something about him that kind of irritates me. I feel sick to my stomach.
Is that the right word?
“Tommy?” he asks, and I come back from thinking.
Murph sighs. “I’m, sorry if this is draining you,” he says, eyes dropping to the table.
This is, but fuck if I’m gonna tell you. “Nah, I’m okay. ’m just knackered. Trains wear me out.”
He sits up and looks around. “It’s...these?” Murph gestures to the trains around us.
“No. Actual trains. The one we were on. Traveling. Traveling makes me tired.”
Murph sighs in actual relief. “Oh, okay.” He takes a bite out of his butty and looks at me. “Sorry,” he whispers, scratching his ear. He pushes a fruit cup towards me and smiles. “Here. Don’t let me hog it all. Take some.”
“Nah, mate. I’m ’lright.”
“Are you sure?”
I push it back towards him. “I’m okay. I promise.” I pause. “Thanks. For offerin’.”
Murph looks at me with these sad eyes, and opens the cup. He begins eating and telling me something.
Except I’m not listening anymore.
His eyes are blue. Not like normal blue. Like the colour of a calm ocean. There’s these thin lines of white around his pupils. His eyes crease at the corners when he smiles. His dimples’re still there. I can’t stop looking. His hands only add to his excitement. His lips pull and, like, crinkle over and over. His teeth are yellowing and almost perfectly straight. His black glasses make his eyes shine.
Or maybe it’s just the museum.
I actually don’t mind spending my time with him. I kind of like it.
My stomach twists, and I can’t stop looking. Something about this all hurts.
Maybe because he has to go back in about two weeks?
I look away and, running my hands up the side of my face, whisper, “Sorry.”
He doesn’t say anything after that.
I hate him. I hate his fucking guts with everything ounce of my body.
“As per American Custom, we go to the gift shop last” (his words), so that’s where we go. A half-hour before our train gets in. He goes straight for the books, which is what I kind of expected from him, anyway. He picks up a few, and then goes for the smaller stuff. Postcards and keyrings and whatnot.
“No books?” I ask. I’ve seen him buy enough books to open a library.
He looks at me for a second, then looks away. “I don’t want to overspend, Tommy.”
“How un-American of you,” I tease.
Murph smirks, but keeps his eyes away from me.
I hold my breath for a second, and then pick up what he was looking at. There’s a long line of books about different locomotive classes, railway histories, and the anatomy of steam engines. All of this seems like stuff he’d like.
I pick up a glossy book about Flying Scotsman. And how to take care of it.
The cutaways and schematics’re cool. But it’s probably too technical for me.
“Anything interesting?” Murph asks.
“...nah, not really,” I say, putting it back.
He leans over and catches sight of the name on the cover. “That’s the one they’re rebuilding in the workshops. Remember?”
Oh, yeah. That was cool. “Nice.”
Murph has a couple postcards and one keyring in his hands. “Anything you see that you want?” he asks.
I shake my head. “Nah. Never really was into trains, anyways,” I say, shrugging.
He nods. “Okay.”
We don’t say anything for a second.
“I’m gonna...go. I’ll wait for you outside, yeah?”
Murph nods. “Oh...o-okay.”